An unfortunate truth about police work is there are evil people out there who would like to kill us, simply because we are cops. Given the opportunity, some of them will try.
So, we need to take every opportunity to spot danger before it is too late. One of the more useful skills an officer can develop is learning how to spot someone carrying a firearm. Several agencies, such as the US Secret Service, offer training in this life-saving skill. A lot of basic police academies, unfortunately, do not.
In the July/August 2007 issue of The Police Marksman, Chuck Remsberg wrote an article called “Spotting Armed Suspects.” In the article, Remsberg details indications and characteristics of potentially armed suspects. Some of these indicators are listed below.
- Determine Strong Side – Most guns are concealed on the strong side of the person’s body. While up to 90% of the world is right-handed, it could be a fatal mistake to assume that everyone you encounter will be.
Gun Location – According to Remsberg’s article, most armed suspects tuck their handgun in the waistband of their pants, between the navel and hip. A distant second for preferred carry location is the small of the back. Most offenders do not use a holster.
Touching of the Firearm – Most people, especially anyone not used to carrying a concealed weapon, will touch the gun to ensure themselves that it is still there.
Unusual Body Movement or Positioning – The suspect positions themselves, or moves in such a manner, as to shield the firearm from view. Additionally, unusual movements may be seen by someone trying to keep an unholstered gun in place while moving.
Bulges – If you see a hard bulge in a place consistent with carrying a firearm… well, I think you know what to do.
Clothing – Look for unusual clothing that may be used to hide a firearm. For example, someone wearing a winter coat in the middle of August on Clearwater Beach, FL.
The article is much longer than this post, and it is well worth the time and money to pick up a copy and read it. (Ed note: The article is no longer available online. If I locate another source for the article, I will post it here.)
Also, take a look at some of these commercially made disguised weapons.
To date, it is one of the most popular blog entries I have written based on the amount of traffic that has been coming in.
As a follow up, I thought all of you may be interested in an article that I had sent to me by a California police officer. The article, Dead Right: Recognizing Traits of Armed Individuals, is out of the March 2006 edition of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.
The authors conducted three studies over a period of 15 years, and they found certain common characteristics in people that are illegally carrying firearms. In the article, the authors break down what police officers should look for into two general categories: concealment characteristics and behavioral traits.
Concealment characteristics are the things used by suspects to hide the firearm or other weapon. For example, an un-tucked shirt or sports jacket are examples of concealment characteristics. These characteristics may not be obvious. In modern society, casual dress with un-tucked shirts is quite common. Even though an un-tucked shirt may hide a firearm, in and of itself, it is not a good indicator.
An officer must judge the concealment characteristics in the context of the environment they are in. With clothing, an officer can simply ask “Does what I see match the surroundings?” For example, a person wearing a jeans jacket in August in Florida should raise your suspicions a lot more than the person next to him in shorts and an un-tucked t-shirt. Likewise, a person walking down a Chicago street in January with his coat unbuttoned should catch your attention also. After all, if he was wearing the coat for warmth, wouldn’t he button it up? Is he leaving it unbuttoned for fast access to a gun?
Bumps, bulges, weighted pockets, gym bags, paper sacks, and unusual clothing are all examples of concealment characteristics.
Behavioral traits, on the other hand, are those actions performed by the suspect which are clues that he is armed. Things like:
- frequently touching the firearm for reassurance,
- adjusting the weapon for comfort, or because it has moved out of place,
- an unusual walk or gait, and
- blading their weapon side away from you, similar to the “interview stance.”
The authors discovered that none of the offenders they interviewed, in 15 years of research, ever used a holster to carry their firearms. This means that a lot of the behavioral traits will be more obvious if you are looking for them. Think about it: if you are not carrying your gun in a holster, and it is moving around as you walk, aren’t you going to constantly be touching it to 1) make sure it doesn’t move too far out of place, and 2) you didn’t drop it?
In the article, the authors also go into safe ways of stopping armed suspects.
The article is well worth reading, and the download is free.